Renate Engelbrecht
Content producer
3 minute read
18 Jun 2021
2:15 pm

Vaginal health 101 – what you need to know

Renate Engelbrecht

Vaginal health guidelines and terminology that every woman needs to understand.

Picture: iStock

Vaginal health is a topic many women would rather avoid. Still, it’s one of the most important health-related topics and there are vaginal pH guidelines and vaginal terminology every woman should get acquainted with sooner than later.

Terminology for vaginal health

  1. Vaginal pH balance
    Maintaining the pH balance of your vagina is key to keeping it healthy. In the vagina, the higher the pH value, the better the chances of infections as it’s the ideal environment for bacteria and yeasts to thrive. It is therefore essential to keep your vaginal pH between 3.5 and 4.5. Women who are older may have a vaginal pH of up to 5.
  2. Protective lactobacilli
    Lactobacilli is a type of bacteria that maintains the acidity of the vagina. This keeps the lining of the vagina healthy and prevents the growth of certain bacteria that cause infections.
  3. Bacterial vaginosis
    This is the most common vaginal infection which happens when the number of protective lactobacilli in the vagina decreases. This results in vaginal discharge, which is normally grey or white, thin and profuse. It normally has a fishy odour. Bacterial vaginosis is normally treated with antibiotics and your doctor should be consulted if you have any concerns.
  4. Discharge
    The vagina is designed to keep itself clean through natural secretions, also known as discharge. Besides your monthly period which forms part of your menstrual cycle, it is normal to produce clear or white secretions from your vagina. Changes in the amount of discharge can be hormonal, linked to the menstrual cycle, pregnancy or menopause.
  5. Vaginal atrophy
    The walls of the vagina usually stay lubricated with a clear layer of fluid maintained by the hormone, oestrogen. This hormone also helps to keep the vagina’s lining healthy thick and elastic. When there is a drop in oestrogen levels, it causes a lack of vaginal moisture which can have a negative effect on your sex life.

According to Dr Judy van Aardt, a gynaecologist at Pretoria East Hospital, the vagina’s pH can be anything between 3.5 and 4.5 and it has its own flora that helps to balance its pH. The reason for the vagina being acidic is for it to protect itself from other bacteria. Still, there are things that can throw your vagina’s pH off balance.

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What causes imbalances in vaginal pH?

  • The use of certain antibiotics
  • Candida
  • Certain fragranced soaps
  • Fragranced bubble bath
  • Hormonal changes. Some women’s vaginal pH will increase just before menstruation and menopause also causes vaginal pH to increase.
  • Semen’s pH is the exact opposite to that of the vagina’s, which means it could temporarily increase vaginal pH.
  • Stress
  • Poor hygiene

How to maintain a healthy vaginal pH

  • Stay away from heavily scented soap and bubble bath and rather use a product like those from GynaGuard.
  • Don’t bathe in too hot water. In fact, Dr Van Aardt suggests that you rather opt for a shower.
  • Use probiotics daily to reintroduce good bacteria.
  • Don’t douche. Dr Van Aardt is convinced this changes your vagina’s natural flora.
  • Don’t eat too much sugar. Sugar increases your vaginal pH.
  • When you use lubricants, opt for unscented lubricants like K-Y jelly.
  • Some doctors would recommend you don’t wear clothes that are too tight.
  • An old wives’ tale that many people swear by is adding tea tree oil to your bath water.
  • Eating Greek yogurt is an easy and natural way of taking in good bacteria.

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